More than 80 children were treated to an exciting day at the tennis on Wednesday, as they participated in the Lacoste Special Needs Tennis Clinic.
In partnership with Lacoste and the Clark Francis Tennis Academy, the clinic served up lessons, lunch, and a visit from top WTA players for children from Al Noor, Dubai Centre for Special Needs, Rashid Pediatric Centre, the Dubai Autism Centre and Manzil School.
The Lacoste Special Needs Clinic is specifically designed to offer a fun tennis experience for children with special needs, and they were delighted to be joined by WTA players Elena Vesnina and Arantxa Parra Santonja, who took to the court.
“It’s good fun to get out with the kids and see a smile on their faces, they’re great kids and it’s good to be here,” said Vesnina.
Tournament mascots Ace and Annette also joined in the fun.
Sol Goodwin, a teacher at Dubai Centre for Special Needs said: “The children all love today, it is the one day that they get excited for every year. When we tell them it is the tennis day they all light up with smiles. Everyone had a chance to hit a ball and they all received a t-shirt and cap which they all wore while on the court.”
"It is the one day that they get excited for every year" – Goodwin
The children were delighted to be at the tennis, with one of them, Sheikha Al Kharbash from Dubai Center for Special Needs saying: “Best part of the day was meeting a real player. Wow, she was super nice.”
Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman of Dubai Duty Free, said: “It is wonderful to see these children enjoying the tennis and being part of the tournament. They have many challenges in life and it is great to see them having such a lovely time”.
Tournament Director Salah Tahlak added: “Tennis is a sport that everyone can enjoy and we are happy to be able to offer this opportunity to be involved in the tournament to these wonderful young people. It is great to see them having so much fun,” said Tahlak.
The young guns are coming. That is the general sense prevalent in the women’s locker room in Dubai this week.
And no one will feel it more than Carla Suarez Navarro and Lucie Safarova on Thursday as they take on familiar opponents in the form of their compatriots, good friends and doubles partners Garbine Muguruza and Karolina Pliskova in their respective quarter-finals.
Both veterans – Suarez Navarro and Safarova – will take on younger up-and-coming talents who happen to be sharing half a court with them this week in the doubles draw.
Suarez Navarro, a Spanish veteran who turned pro 12 years ago, is in the doubles quarter-finals with Muguruza, who at 21 is five years younger than her partner.
Before they step on court to face the Rodionova sisters in doubles on Thursday, they will fight each other for a place in the singles semi-finals on centre court.
It will be the first meeting between Suarez Navarro and Muguruza, and the pair, who also train together at the same place in Barcelona, are not too keen on the match-up.
“It’s difficult. Sometimes we live a life like a team, tomorrow we are opponents. So it’s tough. But at the same time it’s one more match. Tomorrow I want to enjoy it, we’ll see what happens,” Suarez Navarro told Sport360.
Muguruza tries to not to make friends on tour for one specific reason – so she wouldn’t have to face them on court. Suarez Navarro is one of her few pals on the circuit.
“I think it’s too difficult and we’re all playing really well, you can’t make friends here,” said Muguruza, who is enjoying a stellar debut in Dubai. “You’re playing against her the next day. I don’t try to make friends, I just go practice, do my job, go with my team, but not with the other people.”
Suarez Navarro, ranked 13 in the world, has been the Spanish No1 for a long time but in her absence, it was Muguruza that led Spain in their 2-3 Fed Cup defeat to Romania earlier this month, winning both her singles matches.
“Garbine is a really talented player,” says Suarez Navarro. “She is young and has a great future ahead of her.”
The 28-year-old Safarova, who ended Venus Williams’ 16-match winning streak in Dubai on Wednesday, will be facing Pliskova for a second time in as many weeks. Together, the Czech duo lost in the doubles first round but have pulled off some impressive upsets to reach their maiden Dubai quarter-finals.
Pliskova, 22, beat Safarova in Antwerp last week and admits she isn’t too pleased with her draw.
“I’ve known Lucie for a long time, but personally I’ve known her around let’s say one or two years. We are meeting in tournaments. And even now we spend some time in Fed Cup or we are practicing a little bit more. We played doubles here. It will be quite tough. We played already in Antwerp last week, so I’m not really happy for this draw, but what I can do?” said Pliskova, who took out the tournament’s No4 seed Ana Ivanovic on Wednesday.
Safarova echoed her friend’s comments but his hoping she can put their relationship aside when she takes to the court.
— Ana Ivanovic (@AnaIvanovic) February 18, 2015
“It’s never nice to play a friend and team-mate from Czech, but it is what it is. It’s a match and I will go there, and it’s a new challenge for me and I will try to win,” said Safarova.
“I think we have a lot of young Czech players coming up, so a new generation. We are strong in tennis as a country, so I hope that flow will continue. It will inspire more and more young kids.”
A semi-finalist in Wimbledon last year, Safarova hit a career-high ranked of 14 five months ago. She became a grand slam champion for the first time last month when she won the doubles crown in Australia and says the win gave her a new wave of confidence.
“It helps you a lot, because I think no matter what grand slam title, it’s a grand slam title,” said Safarova.
“I was really excited that I finally have my first one. It gave me a lot of confidence and motivation also to do well in doubles and singles in the future tournaments.”
Titleholder Venus Williams and Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova headed a long list of seeds blown away on Wednesday at the Dubai Open.
Williams, unbeaten in 16 matches over six years here, and Kvitova, the champion two years ago, both failed to reach the quarter-finals, and were joined by another former winner, Agnieszka Radwanska, and a former world number one, Ana Ivanovic.
– #Quiz360: WIN dinner for 2 at Jumeira Rotana, Dubai
All were ousted at an upgraded tournament with a first prize which is now nearly half a million dollars, suggesting the pool of talent capable of beating the leading players has deepened.
One of them is Lucie Safarova, a 28-year-old top 20 Czech who outplayed Williams 6-4, 6-2 and whose hard-to-read left-handed serve contrasted markedly with the 34-year-old American's delivery which appeared half paced amidst on-court temperatures reaching 40 degrees.
Karolina Pliskova, a younger Czech, whose steep serve from a six-foot one-inch frame launches an attacking game which is flat and forceful enough to trouble anyone, overcame an often excellent Ivanovic 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.
Ivanovic didn't help her cause with two double faults near the end which scuppered her chances.
Earlier Agnieszka Radwanska, a former titleholder, was also beaten. The fifth-seeded Pole has been suffering from a virus and looked below par for the second successive day as she lost 6-4, 6-2 to Garbine Muguruza, a 21-year-old from Barcelona who looks en route for the top 20.
And later Flavia Pennetta, a wild card entry who saved four match points against Julie Goerges of Germany in the first round, followed it by winning 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 against the seventh-seeded Angelique Kerber, another German.